This book was a journey through time. Extraordinarily well-written, Littel has a way of providing detail and nuance in a way that few others I've read do. The 40+ hours I was very concerned about since I'd never listened to one that long and I was not sure if it could sustain my interest that long. But boy did it. Great characters that I cared about, good history lesson, and an author I will add to my "must listen" list.
This book is a strange mixture. On the one hand Littell seems to have researched his material well, telling the stories of the CIA since WWII in great detail and, apparently, with some accuracy. He depicts the history of The Company as a catalogue of shockingly amateurish fiascos that would be an embarrassment to a banana state, and history confirms that this was accurate. He depicts most of the characters involved, both historical and invented, as bumbling idiots who didn't have even the most rudimentary grasp of the politics involved, the nations they were trying to support or destroy or the disastrous consequences that their actions would have. Again, the CIA's track record during the period being described clearly demonstrates that this is probably a very accurate depiction.
At the same time, Littell also presents this cavalcade of dunces with a kind of gung-ho, Clancy-esque machismo that seems to indicate that he is rooting for them and that he too fails to understand the disasters that his characters are fabricating or their terrible consequences for the world as a whole.
It's hard to complain that the character depiction is flat -- the real people involved were probably even shallower in reality than Littell's portrayals. Even so, the love scenes in particular are simply painful to listen to, and get more so as the book progresses -- like the steamy fantasies of a fourteen-year-old kid who has yet to go on his first date.
Again, it does make fascinating reading, simply for the details of the history. But the pedestrian prose and the innate contradictions in the piece prevent it from being a really good book. Littell can't make up his mind whether he wants to be Le Carre or Clancy and ends up with the weaknesses of both and the strengths of neither.
As a military veteran who spent 12+ years in Army during the cold war (6 in Germany and was there when the wall fell), this was like coming home again. The characters were very well defined and colorful. If you like Clancy you'll love this book. I will read others by this author. What else can be said about Scott Brick but awsome!!! I am an admitted "Brickaholic". He's never let me down yet, one of the best.
This book is far and away the best "spy" book I've ever read/heard, and one of the best books (out of 49, all unabridged) I've ever downloaded from Audible. If I could give it more stars I would. As of the date of this review, it is the best book by Littel available here. (There is a new one out but I'v not yet read it.) The narration by Scott Brick is PERFECT for this book. His style fits this type of book very well.
The book spans the cold-war, following several characters across a great many years. It is "historical fiction" as it draws on the facts of history throughout. I've seen this book in paper, and it's huge. As an unabridged audio book, it's long. But I was completely drawn in from the beginning and it never felt like it should have been shorter, which I cannot say for every book I've read/listened to. (Anyone want to buy my doorstop er... I mean my hardback copy of Cryptonomicon? Too long by HALF at least!) This book was marvelous for my long commute. Highly recommended. 10 stars out of 10!!
I found the first several hours a bit slow. Never boring, but it only had me mildly interested.
But then it really picked up and never slowed down. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.
I usually buy my books with the credits on my account, but I didn't have any left for this book. This one was well worth every penny. I learned about events that were given one paragraph in my history book. The characters seem to come alive with the narrator's skill. Don't miss this book!!
This book was wonderful! I was leery of investing my time in such a large book (that follows characters over roughly 40 years) but I found myself wishing that it was longer. I was actually sad when I started the last section of the audio book because I knew that it was almost over. Highly recommended.
wow, what a great listen! I was sooo sad when the book came to an end. 40 hours seems long, but it slips by quickly once you start to listen. A definite buy!
I'm of an age that a lot of what happens in this book is in my memory files...The Bay of Pigs, Kruschev, Sam Gianacana, and more recently, Gorbachev's Russia.
There were long hours of this book when I couldn't put it down and stayed awake into the night just to hear what happened. There were a few slow passages, but in a 40 hr. book, what can one expect? Generally the characters felt like friends and I did like how he made some of the Russians into likable, real people, even if they were on the other side. Except one, Starek.
Starek's pedophilia was all the more creepy and disgusting because Littell didn't make it mean and sordid, but almost used a jovial and endearing tone when writing those parts of the book. "Come here my girlies." After listening to those parts, I felt like I wanted to wash my hands. I wonder after what real person was he patterned?
The one and only failing I have with this book is that the narrator made everyone with an accent (even Cubans and Guatemalans) sound like NYC Russian Jews. And after about 30 hours, that got to be a little grating. But the story eventually would pull me back in and I would listen with my own accents as filters.
I won't say what character dies in the coup against Gorbachev, but I did go online while reading that part and what Littell describes is exactly what happened during the coup. Which blurs the line between fiction and fact in this book all the more.
I very often got online and read about the events happening in the book. That really enriched the book for me. Filled in the holes, so to speak.
I plan on another listen in a couple of months. I think it will be like the LeCarre books; after you read them again, you find even more layers and shadings and subtleties that led the story to where it was going.
And I freakin' loved Turetti, the drunken old brilliant genius sot.
This is a good book. Buy it!